|Speculation that Pedroia was leading a revolt in the Boston clubhouse has left him dismayed. (US Presswire)|
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Dustin Pedroia is wary. Talk? Maybe in a moment. First he's gotta call home, and then he's gotta do something else and then ... well, what do you want to talk about?
It's hard to blame him, surrounded as he is by so many land mines. Around here, the next explosion might coincide with someone's next step. Nobody knows where all the wires are hidden. Nobody appears capable of figuring out how to avoid tripping them.
"Dude," he says. "I don't want to do this interview if you're going to make me look like crap."
It is one of the most disconcerting sights of the summer.
No, not the Red Sox losing games. Their spark plug losing his joy.
"I've already been dragged through the mud for no reason," Pedroia growls.
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Flying trapezes and fun-house mirrors continue to accompany the Red Sox even after they pushed the eject button on Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto the other day. Today's Big Top moment? Reliever Alfredo Aceves has been activated from the suspended list ... but only after he was barred from the Red Sox charter flight Monday. He had to find his own cross-country flight.
"Didn't ask about his flight," says manager Bobby Valentine after meeting with Aceves for, according to the manager, roughly 30 minutes before the club activated the pitcher. "We didn't quite get there.
"I bet it was first class."
If it was, then Aceves is the only Boston player who has touched first class in a season of colossal failure and collateral damage.
Over in his corner of the clubhouse, a place normally stocked with smack talk and belly laughs, Pedroia's normal boyish exuberance has been supplanted by a weariness that belies his 29 years.
Way back before the Sox dumped a staggering quarter of a billion dollars of salary last week, before Aceves was suspended for insubordination, before the vultures started sniffing Valentine's carcass, before the losing became routine, before David Ortiz's Achilles sidelined him ... waaay back in mid-April, for crying out loud, Valentine fired one of the first shots when he publicly questioned Kevin Youkilis' physical and mental dedication.
Pedroia's response -- "That's not how we go about our stuff here" -- stuck. Not only did it stick, it resonated throughout the rest of the summer, turning Pedroia into a sort of Poster Boy for what many think is a clubhouse full of spoiled players with an unwarranted sense of entitlement.
"We had a 10 o'clock game in the morning," Pedroia says. "I didn't even know what happened. I kind of got ambushed at 7 in the morning. I didn't know what happened. I think people blew it up into more than what it was."
Pedroia goes on to tell the story he continues to tell, that he and Valentine immediately talked and were laughing five minutes later.
As if everyone around here has been singing Sweet Caroline together ever since ("good times never seemed so good, so good. ...")
Still ... his intentions were honorable, not borne of entitlement.
"I was trying to defend Youk," he says. "That's the thing, when you're a teammate, especially in this environment, we go through so much together that you always have to have their back under any circumstances. That's what makes a close team.
"Obviously, I took some heat for saying stuff like that. It kind of came out wrong. I wish it didn't come out like that. But I'm not the smartest guy in the world. That's basically it. That's it."
The domino effect hasn't stopped.
Pedroia is a three-time All-Star, led the American League in runs scored in both 2008 and 2009 and even in this toxic dump of a season, his focus has remained strong enough to allow him to rank as the fourth-hardest player in the AL to strike out (9.6 plate appearances per strikeout).
He is a gamer, always has been, exactly the kind of player any manager wants on his team.
That Pedroia got himself caught in Valentine's gale-force winds says more about the manager than the second baseman.
One of the most popular players in Boston suddenly transformed into a conniver and a weasel. Teflon Derek Jeter, he wasn't.
Many people, he says, are "misjudging my statement. I meant, if you have a problem with someone, you should go talk to them one on one. That's what the statement was for. That was it."
This is about the time the self-preservation mechanism kicks in and Pedroia threatens to end the interview.
But the point is not to make him "look like crap."
The point is simply to wonder if he has any more idea than the rest of us as to how this train derailed so spectacularly. Seven seasons in, he has never played for a loser. Until now.
It is not his job to think about it or to dwell on it, he says. Talk to general manager Ben Cherington about that.
"You've just got to come out and play the game as hard as you can and win that day," Pedroia says. "That's what we've always tried to do here.
"Obviously, it didn't work out from last September until now. You've got to try to move forward and try to play the game right."
So that's what he does, and it is what he will poke and prod everyone else in the room to do as these Red Sox regroup after last week's stunning trade.
Already, the clubhouse vibe is significantly different with Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez cleared out. Nobody in here has any clue as to whether Valentine will be their manager in 2013.
Clearly, layers upon layers of issues remain, no matter how many coats of primer they apply. There is bitterness and there are factions.
"Everybody's going to be different than Tito," starter Jon Lester says of the departed and popular manager, Terry Francona. "You can be the greatest manager in the world coming in here and it'll still be different than Tito. Always, there's a learning curve.
"I don't know anything about sides. We've just got to put our heads down and try to play better baseball."
It's all they have left. And it's not much.
"As a player, you want to stick together," outfielder Cody Ross says. "We all want to stick together -- coaches, players, front office. There might have been a little bit of that that didn't happen this year."
"I think it's gotten a lot better over the past couple of months," Ross continues. "I see signs pointing toward it getting better."
It's a far different place, anyway, without Beckett's swagger, Youkilis' presence and, these days, Pedroia's chirping.
"He's one of the reasons we all have a World Series ring," Pedroia says, alluding to Boston's 2007 triumph over Colorado. "This guy took the ball and gave everything he had for us. You build special relationships with people. ...
"I have my opinion of Josh. He's been first class to me. He taught me how to be a professional and show up to the yard every day and go to work. I respect him for that every minute of the day.